Private school moves to new home after theft of money, electronics

A private elementary school has moved from Belleville to Swansea after $10,000 in money and electronics was stolen from its building.

Elite Scholars STEAM Academy moved into its new location, 4510 N. Illinois St. in Swansea, at the beginning of January, according to Head of School Anetrise Jones. The school previously rented space at St. Paul United Church of Christ, 115 W. B St. in Belleville, but Jones said students didn’t feel safe coming to class after the building was robbed multiple times at the end of 2016.

Jones said the items that were taken — including tablets, computers and money raised for the Leukemia Foundation — were kept behind locked doors.

“We felt like we weren’t safe there,” Jones said. “They pried those locks off.”

The Rev. Robert Koepcke, interim pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, said he doesn’t know whether the doors were locked.

“I do not know that. That was their claim,” he said.

Jones said the school community believes the thefts were “an inside job” by someone in the church. However, Koepcke said no one from the church was considered a suspect during the Belleville Police Department’s investigation.

“They relocated, moved out and left things in good condition. We considered the matter closed,” Koepcke said.

Belleville Detective Sgt. Todd Keilbach, the department’s public information officer, could not be reached for comment about the investigation.

Everyone actually loves this new space.

Anetrise Jones, head of school at Elite Scholars STEAM Academy

Jones said the school moved to the Swansea location “for the safety and security of our students.” And she said students and staff are happy there.

“Everyone actually loves this new space,” Jones said.

Elite Scholars STEAM Academy currently has a lease agreement with a landlord in Swansea. But Jones said the goal is for the school to purchase its own building someday.

“We would love to stay in the Swansea-Fairview Heights area,” she said.

The school community began raising money three months ago through to replace the stolen items and for a down payment on a building. Combined with parents’ and students’ efforts, Jones said the school had raised $25,000 of its $50,000 goal by early February.

The public can help by contributing to the school’s campaign or by attending its upcoming gala event.

The Hollywood Masquerade Gala is April 22 at Drury Inn in O’Fallon. It will benefit both the effort to purchase a building and the school’s scholarship endowment. Tickets are $55 and can be purchased online.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes